Sudan coup: It’s not too late for Burhan to make a U-turn-US envoy
Sudan’s generals have “hijacked” the country’s pro-democracy movement, but it is not too late to turn things around, according to the senior US ambassador for the Horn of Africa area.
“If General [Abdel Fattah al-]Burhan wants his words about elections and the constitutional declaration to be taken seriously, he must enable the civilian government to begin its duties,” Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman told reporters by phone from Washington.
Sudan’s military took control last Monday under Burhan’s supervision, in a coup strongly criticized by the UN and foreign governments.
Several civilian officials charged with preparing Sudan for its first democratic elections in decades were imprisoned by the military. Nonetheless, the general has said that his nation would have elections on time in 2023.
On Tuesday, the US ambassador underlined Washington’s demand that the military free Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok from house arrest and return to the agreed-upon constitutional procedure for Sudan’s transition to democratic leadership.
The Biden administration’s position was reaffirmed only a day after the UN’s special envoy for Sudan, Volker Perthes, said that “several” international channels were attempting to settle the issue in Khartoum.
Perthes stated during a virtual news conference Nov. 1 that the “contours” of a reconciliation accord are expected to become “clear” in the next days.
According to the ambassador, the UN has been helping “a few of these attempts, providing proposals and ideas and collaborating with some of these mediators.”
Why it Matters: As discussions continue, the Biden administration has publicly said that it fully supports Sudan’s civilian government.
In reaction to the coup last week, the US suspended $700 million in financial assistance (but not humanitarian help) to Khartoum. The financing was the culmination of over two years of arduous diplomatic discussions and hard-won changes promised by Sudan’s transitional administration.
In reaction to the coup, the World Bank stopped its nearly $2 billion in assistance packages to the chronically indebted and impoverished nation last week.
“I believe the military will understand that they need the sort of international assistance that was provided to the transitional authority,” US special envoy Feltman told reporters Tuesday.
“Restoring civilian transitional authority is the way to reestablish that sort of international assistance,” he added.
What’s Next: Sudan’s hopeful democratic transition is perched on a razor’s edge as Washington considers its next step.
On Tuesday, Feltman extended an olive branch to Sudan’s military.
“Our personal judgment is that one will not be able to sideline the military throughout this transition phase — just as the military should not be seeking to sideline civilians as they are today,” the US ambassador added.
“The military does play a significant role in the transition,” Feltman said, as well as “after democratic elections, when you have a military under democratic authority.”
Burhan and his co-conspirators, however, seem to be striving to avoid such a low position after decades close to the monarchy.
According to Bloomberg, Sudanese authorities are debating a plan in which Hamdok returns as prime minister, but Burhan picks a new government and the army retains control of Sudan’s security and military forces.
Nonetheless, some observers believe Burhan and Gen. Mohamed Dagalo (“Hemedti”) may have taken on more than they can chew.
Despite Burhan’s grandiose boasts of resurrecting the 2019 revolution, the coup seems to lack public legitimacy, as seen by widespread demonstrations around the nation.
As the UN’s ambassador emphasized Monday, the magnitude of those protests is still difficult to assess. It remains to be known how many Sudanese will go to the streets and how long they will stay.
For the time being, the Biden administration seems to be banking on economic pressure to stymie any future military operations to rally popular support.
Officials from Washington have also met with the leaders of Sudan’s strong bordering nations.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Israel are all involved in talks to provide stability to Sudan, but their viewpoints may vary from Washington on specifics.
On Tuesday, Feltman noted that officials in Abu Dhabi, Moscow, and other regional capitals share Washington’s desire for stability in Sudan, but that they may differ on how to accomplish it.
Burhan and Hemedti have maintained tight connections with Gulf nations, Egypt, and Israel during the difficult transition.
Keep an eye on Sudan’s negotiations with Russia about establishing a naval station in Port Sudan.
Kirill Semenov contends that the coup merely strengthens Khartoum’s military connections with Moscow, a result that the US Africa Command has tried to avoid.
However, due to legal limits imposed during Sudan’s last coup in 1989, it is unlikely that the Pentagon would open up office in Khartoum to train alongside Sudanese soldiers anytime soon.